Tuesday, 13 July 2010

How to start a war

I finally lost my patience.

"That's it!" I said.  "Something's gotta be done."

Since before the Seed Swap, I'd been nurturing this year's plants in the warmth of the conservatory.  They were doing so well that I figured it was time to start hardening them out for the summer.

That first night, the slugs came out in force and ate the lot.  They devastated the aubergine, munched through the squash, even climbed up the tomato stalks, chewing as they went.  Things were not looking good.  If they went on this way, I wouldn't have anything left growing.  There was only one thing to do.

One quick trip to Thorns hardware store in town later, I returned with a bottle of patented slug killer and liberally sprinkled it around the base of the plants.  The next morning I visited the scene of the crime and found lots of dead slugs.  I poked one with a stick, just to be sure.  G came out to see what I was up to.

"Daddy, what are you doing?" she said.

I explained about the chewed plants and the slugs.  "And look," I said, "the ants are eating up the dead slugs."

"Daddy, are you now going to kill all the ants?" G asked.

That stopped me in my tracks.  It had been so easy to just go and buy slug-killer that I hadn't even thought about it.  But with the slugs gone, the ants could just move in.  If I killed off all the ants, something else would take its place.  It would be a never-ending arms-race trying to protect a few plants.  And a small-scale arms-race with chemical weapons!  Isn't this what I'm trying to get away from?

A quick check-in with the "Introduction to Permaculture" handbook and now I'm experimenting with broken egg-shells (free-range and local), coffee-grounds (less so) and moving the marigolds next to the veggies (apparently the slugs will eat them in preference to the crops).  If that doesn't work, I'll try out the beer trap, though it seems wrong to use Adnams for that just to stay local!  My favourite suggestion was to employ chickens, but I'll have to wait a while before I can get them.

The pics below are of my lovely roses a week or so ago, and the little caterpillars that are now happily stripping the leaves.  But I'm not going to spray them with chemicals.  I'm hoping they'll make a nice meal for the birds...


  1. Hi Jon,

    This is something that I find difficult in gardening, that sometimes you mUst be there to do the right thing at the right time or else you've just lost this year's harvest of that crop, while on the other hand you need lots of patience, to build up an ecosystem, go through the trial and error, wait for a whole year before you get to try again.
    I do find, though, that diversity really does work, that if your tomatoes freeze and the broad beans die of thirst, that there is still beetroot and calendula and fennel to eat.

    Best wishes,

  2. Ah for a hedgehog or two..... Great post Jon :)

  3. I have not seen a slug in my garden for years. On damp nights an army of frogs, toads and newts patrols my vegetable patch. In return I provide them with some small ponds to cool off in and some places to hide during the day and to spend the cold winter nights. There are some links at http://www.little-melton.org.uk/Orgs/WildlifeGroup.htm that explain how to make your garden amphibian friendly. Unfortunately they can't reach the caterpillars but the birds do a reasonable job.

  4. Phew, I'm glad you decided against the slug pellets, they're dreadful things: the toxin that kills the slugs build up in the bodies of larger predators like hedgehogs and kill them horribly.
    I had to take a poisoned hedghehog to a rescue place last year, I can still hear the awful screams it made.